Pop goes the sitar
Listen to Track 7 on the new Bruce Springsteen album, and you're in for a shock. For the first minute and 16 seconds of "Worlds Apart," there's no sign of the E Street Band's signature blend of denim and drums, sweaty headscarves and slick guitars. No sign of the E Street Band at all, actually let alone their Boss.
Instead, there's just the ethereal wailing of Pakistani singer Asif Ali Khan over a drum loop. The effect is a bit like discovering a Bollywood musical scene in the middle of a Clint Eastwood movie. But the blend of rock and world music is one that pop audiences are getting more accustomed to hearing even on the radio.
From Sting's hit "Desert Rose," with Rai singer Cheb Mami, to The Dave Matthews Band single "Everyday," featuring South African singer Vusi Mahlasela, many Western songwriters are looking to musicians around the globe for inspiration. In doing so, they're moving beyond a traditional rock & pop idiom to create exciting new musical hybrids.
"I really think it's the next wave," says Derek Trucks, who fronts his own band in addition to playing guitar in The Allman Brothers Band. "[With] all the other fusions in this country as far as jazz and blues and everything the bridge has already been crossed. I think world music is the next step."
Some artists have recently taken big strides in that direction.
Mr. Trucks's aptly titled new record, "Joyful Noise," features Panamanian singer Ruben Blades on one track. Another weaves slide-guitar inflections around the swirling cadences of vocalist Rahat Fateh Ali Kahn, nephew of the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn. (Kahn, the greatest superstar the Middle East has ever produced, worked with Joan Osborne and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder.)